​SXSW Announces More Speakers at Harassment Summit, Relocates Gamergate Panel

The festival has moved the controversial panel to the gaming expo.

Nov 13 2015, 6:16pm

Image: Nan Palmero/Flickr

SXSW has updated its day-long summit about combating online harassment, relocating a panel featuring supporters of GamerGate to a different day and adding nine more anti-harassment speakers.

The festival previously drew backlash for canceling two events, one called "SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community" about "topics that are related to the GamerGate hashtag movement," and another called "Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games" about mitigating online harassment, due to threats of on-site violence. After widespread criticism, including the decisions of Vox Media and Buzzfeed to pull out of the festival if the panels were not reinstated, SXSW backtracked and created a day-long summit about online harassment that included both events.

However, participants from the anti-harassment panel said they were taken by surprise by the inclusion of "SavePoint" in the summit and would not join unless their security concerns were addressed. The SavePoint panels featured supporters of GamerGate Mercedes Carrera and Nick Robalik.

"Having SavePoint included creates a moot reason to even have an anti-harassment summit," Caroline Sinders, an interaction designer at IBM Watson who was slated to speak on "Level Up," said at the time. "At this time, I can't confirm if we are speaking."

In a blog post on Friday, SXSW Director Hugh Forrest announced nine new speakers will be added to the day-long event and the "Savepoint" panel has been moved to Tuesday, March 15. The original "Level Up" panel, featuring Sinders, Randi Harper, and Katherine Cross, has been confirmed for the Online Harassment Summit and speakers including Google Senior Policy Counsel Juniper Downs and author Rosalind Wiseman will now join.

Sinders told Motherboard by Twitter DM the panelists have residual safety concerns, which SXSW has been responsive to.

"I think a lot of this could have been handled better, I think it needs to be addressed and I'm glad security is being taken really seriously," she said. "I'm excited to say I'm joining the summit with my co-panelists. But we have a lot of questions and suggestions as to how the day of the summit will unfold in terms of programming. I have volunteered my services to help curate and organize panels and topics and that suggestion has been warmly received by SXSW."

Sinders said the SXSW controversy brought into focus many of the issues she and her co-panelists seek to address.

"I think this is a very unique opportunity for us to really dive into harassment and provide some actionable programming," she said. "I also think this is a great space to critique and offer up critical insights from an person affected by institutional decision making and I think of a lot of other women in the summit agree."

Congresswoman Katherine Clark, who will also be on the panel and previously spoke out against it being shut down, released a list of four steps on Thursday she said SXSW should follow to make the harassment panel successful, including discussing the cancellation itself and including diverse panelists.

SXSW said it is taking suggestions and feedback on the panel and will announce more presenters and specific programming in the coming weeks.